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Heavenly Bodies

1984, Starring Cynthia Dale, Richard Rebiere, Walter George Alton, Laura Henry. Directed by Lawrence Dane.

What do you get when you mix romance, exercise and formula plotting? If you said Flashdance, you're right. Now what do you get when you remove half of the budget and film it in Toronto? Why, you'd get Heavenly Bodies, of course! This Canadian rip-off goes quite far to cash in on the success of the Jennifer Beals film that came out in 1983. In addition to the countless scenes of expressive exercise/dancing and the casting of Cynthia Dale (who bears a passing resemblance to Beals), Heavenly Bodies actually features a scene with a Flashdance poster in the background!

Despite the similarities, there is one distinct difference between the two films. Heavenly Bodies was not only co-produced by Playboy, but it was subsequently released through RSL, who were also responsible that year for William Fruet's erotic thriller Bedroom Eyes. That's right, Heavenly Bodies (which even shares a name with a Russ Meyer film) promises lots of nudity for the lucrative "after the kids go to bed" home video market. But in all the excitement over aerobics, "sexy" is a promise that Heavenly Bodies does not keep.

Samantha is a secretary and a single mom with a dream. A jazzercise dream! With a couple friends she leases and renovates an old abandon warehouse so she can set up a health club called "Heavenly Bodies." Her club is a smash hit. Everybody loves Samantha's energetic approach to exercise, which includes wearing legwarmers, gyrating suggestively and listening to bad pop music. Her club membership soars, getting her closer to her dream of buying the warehouse.

When Samantha is asked to help train a professional football team, one of the players falls in love with her. Since he is but an ordinary shlub, Steve asks her out with a gorill-o-gram (that's a telegram delivered by a man in a gorilla suit for those of you non-romantics). Samantha responds by sending him a strip-o-gram, with one word, "No." Gosh, the sexual tension is just too thick. She finally agrees to a date, and being the sensitive football player he is, Steve comes over and makes dinner for her and her son.

Then she gets some more exciting news. A local TV station wants to cash in on the fitness/dance craze and is holding an open audition for a host of their new exercise show. Unbeknownst to her, the director is friends with Jack Pearson, owner of the biggest health club in town. Jack is using his influence to get his top instructor (and girlfriend) Debbie the hosting job. And she almost clinches it, until the producer overrules him, giving the part to Samantha. Debbie's pissed, but Jack likes Samantha's pluckiness... perhaps too much.

Then, without warning, the house that jazzercise built begins to crumble. Steve is thinking about moving to Boston to open a restaurant, and one night when Samantha calls him on the road, another woman answers. Debbie decides to get back at Samantha by having the chief investor in Jack Pearson's club buy the warehouse, thereby terminating the lease. Fighting back tears, Samantha assumes this is Jack's doing and boldly decides that this tactic is "sleazy." On her show, she makes a play for ownership of the building by challenging Jack's club to a winner-takes-all "Workout Marathon." Yep, "Workout Marathon"—you just can't make this kind of stuff up.

The night before the big contest, Jack visits Samantha to tenderly tell her that it wasn't his idea. Oddly enough, he starts by throwing her into a coffee table. This is probably not the best way to apologize. Maybe next time he'll consider the spirit of the film and send her a clown-o-gram or a legwarmer endorsement deal.

Suddenly, it's marathon time. The top 15 jazzercisers from each club line up, with the last team to have a member standing to take ownership of the building. The local TV station has apparently blocked an entire day of programming to bring this incredibly important event to the community. There's much aerobics, dancing and gyrating at this point. After several hours of aggravation, Samantha's leg starts bleeding from Jack's vicious attack. But she's not the only one. In the change rooms on breaks, other jazzercisers reveal cuts and bruises on their bodies from the hard core jazzercising they have been doing. Some of the thoughts running through your mind during the marathon will include: "How do you cut yourself doing a jumping jack?" "Can leotards chafe through skin?" and "Why am I watching this again?"

At about the fifth hour, Steve finds out about Jack's attack on Samantha and starts a fight with him. They both get kicked out of the marathon. In the eighth hour, it's predictably down to just Debbie and Samantha. After collapsing several times, it takes Samantha until the tenth hour to finally out-twirl Debbie. And it's all over. Heavenly Bodies win! Heavenly Bodies win! Samantha and Steve patch up their battered bodies and their scarred relationship, and everything is peachy once again.

So, it would seem that in theory, Heavenly Bodies is a "couples" movie cobbled together to offer a little something for the ladies (dancing, exercise and sensitive romance) and a little something for the fellas (nudity). Except, there is only about a minute of nudity, most of which is appropriately enough intercut with a jazzercise routine. Instead, Heavenly Bodies offers up truckloads of lingering shots of spandex-covered exercising girls.

By far the most irritating part of this movie is the ridiculous 1980s pop soundtrack. Samantha and Steve sweat to derivative chart toppers like "I Feel My Life," "Breakin' Out of Prison, Baby," and "Into the Flow" (by Boys Brigade!). In case you forget how much you enjoyed hearing each song the first time, Heavenly Bodies graciously repeats each song several more times for your listening enjoyment. And there really was a soundtrack for this movie—there's a full screen ad at the end of the credits for it! Buy your copy today.

In spite of all this romance, Heavenly Bodies does have a connection to the Canadian slasher films that had come out just a few years ago. First time writer/director Lawrence Dane had appeared in many Canuxploitation films at this point in his career, including The Clown Murders, Rituals and Happy Birthday to Me. Richard Rebiere (Steve) was also in Happy Birthday to Me. My Bloody Valentine featured the death of a young Cynthia Dale, and one of Sam's partners in the fitness club can also be seen getting killed in Prom Night.

I wasn't terribly impressed on my first viewing of Heavenly Bodies, but since then, I've grown quite fond of the film. Yes, Steve's precarious balance of macho and sensitive comes off as extremely contrived, and even women may find that Heavenly Bodies panders to them too much, but the preposterous story is just too much fun to ignore. Even though there's few surprises besides what colour Samantha's next spandex outfit will be, Heavenly Bodies is a well-aged slice of female-friendly Canadian video cheese.

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